It would seem quite the cliché for a ‘middle class Christian girl’, former Chapel Prefect no less, to be taking part in an overseas volunteering placement in Zimbabwe. Whilst I may fit the stereotype, the reality of an ICS placement couldn’t be further from this generalisation, which became very clear from the very beginning of my ICS journey at the orientation and training weekend. The group of people that I was surrounded by were from different walks of life, with various faiths or none at all, demonstrating an open-minded and accepting attitude towards these differences.
When the UK volunteers first joined the national volunteers, there was an uneasiness whenever a discussion on religion arose. In contrast to British etiquette, Zimbabweans are passionate about their faith and will openly declare it at every given opportunity, with a rendition of Destiny Child’s smash-hit “When Jesus Says Yes” by my host sisters at 5am each morning, which was… tolerable. On the other hand, the notorious ‘Britishness’ of the UK counter-parts meant that we were more reserved with our views, as to not want to cause offence. As the group became more familiar and empathetic of the cultural differences affecting these behaviours, the group would often share entertaining stories of their church experiences with their host families, which the national volunteers would find very amusing; notably when two of the volunteers were almost baptised upon arrival!
My host family were Seventh Day Adventists, which I embarrassingly discovered after announcing my love of bacon during my first family meal (side note: pork is considered a taboo amongst Seventh Day followers). Whilst the Bbabbies’ were one of the more religious families, both my room mate Abbie and I appreciated how understanding the family were towards our differing views, with an open invitation to join them on their Saturday church services, which was equally as welcoming. The majority of the Florida neighbourhood attended the same church, so showing my face at the Saturday services meant that on my way to and from work, I would always be greeted by a member of the congregation. Even though I stood out like a sore thumb, this sense of community made me feel more accepted and at ease in my temporary home, which is why I urge all future volunteers to pluck up the courage and attend a service if the opportunity arises; if anything so you have a story to tell!
Towards the end of my ICS journey, I felt very privileged to be asked to speak at one of the last Wednesday devotions at the Simukai, which gave me the opportunity to share my faith and explain some popular misconceptions in a non confrontational environment. Even though the majority of the UK volunteers didn’t necessarily share my beliefs, I was humbled by the support that they gave me and can only feel encouraged by my experience.
Seeing as I started on a cliché, it seems fitting to end on one, so I suppose what I am trying to say is that regardless of your background, religious standing, the colour of your skin or your gender, the people that you are likely to meet on your ICS placement will look past the initial perceptions and stigmas that we encounter in our day-to-day lives. And just maybe, in a world where adversity is met with a bit of understanding and open-mindedness, it would be a much better place to live.
Watch Elizabeth's video here.
Written by ICS Alumni Elizabeth van Maanen (July - September 2015 cycle)